By Zac B. Sarian

For 24 years, he was a well respected civil engineer who was busy constructing gas stations—not just one but sometimes two or three at a time—for a major gasoline company. The financial reward was very good, but the business proved to be so stressful that it exacted a heavy toll on his physical well-being.

Puente beside a portable screened dryer placed in the sun.

In 2003, when he was just 50 years old, engineer Napoleon Puente felt so physically weak. He did not really know what hit him but he now surmises that it must have been the hectic schedule of meeting deadlines and his exposure to toxic substances like fumes that debilitated him.

He submitted himself to stem cell procedures but this did not seem to make him stronger. Fortunately, a nephew who was an executive of a multinational company in Colombia sent samples of spirulina for him to take. It did not take long for him to discover that the spirulina, the blue-green alga which is considered the most complete food in the world, worked wonders for him.

Researched on the Internet

Engr. Pol—that’s what many friends call him— became curious and researched about the wonder food in the Internet. And that’s how he got acquainted with Jean Paul Jourdan, a Frenchman who produced high quality spirulina on a small scale. Jourdan also published a guide on how to grow spirulina.

Pol found Jourdan’s guide easy to follow so he immediately started culturing spirulina in a small way. For a start, he used one-square meter wooden boxes lined with plastic, using a strain from South America that his nephew, Ferdinand Puente, sent him. Later, he also acquired a strain from Italy and another from UP Los Baños.

Five Grams Per Square Meter/Day

Pol had wanted to find out how much spirulina in a one-square-meter cubicle could be produced in one day. He soon found out that one cubicle could produce five grams of dried spirulina in one day. He then started doing his math and was convinced that he could grow spirulina not just for his own consumption but also as a business that would make it possible for other people to partake of the wonder food.

Being an engineer who is an expert in construction, he designed his own growing ponds made of concrete, roofed with corrugated transparent plastic, and walled with fine net to preclude the entry of insects and other foreign matter. He built his high-tech farm in a lot about a hundred meters from where he lives in Cainta, Rizal.

View of the growing ponds under transparent plastic roofing.

Not A Simple Matter

He confesses that it is not a simple matter to grow the blue-green algae. It is sensitive to changes in temperature, the pH in the water for growing the alga, available oxygen in the growing pond (so paddle wheels are needed), and other considerations.

All the requirements that are needed to succeed in growing the alga have been studied by Pol, and so successful is he that even the researchers from UP Los Baños and La Salle University have admired his success in producing spirulina. In fact, Dr. Joel Cuello, an expert in growing algae for large-scale production from the University of Arizona’s Department of Agriculture and Biosystems Engineering, has been impressed by Pol’s Aztec Spirulina Farm.

Very Hygienic

Dr. Cuello said that Pol’s production area is very hygienic and that the spirulina produced is very pure. It is unlike in other countries where spirulina is grown in open ponds outdoors. He considers Aztec’s operations as being really green and sustainable. The natural product that the company produces is really of high value and quality. An analysis by a reputable laboratory has found Aztec Spirulina to contain 72 percent protein. It is higher by two percentage points than that of a leading counterpart from Australia.

Aztec Spirulina comes in capsules as well as in granule form. Both don’t have any binders. Two other products are Spirulina soap and 5-in-One Spirulina coffee with mangosteen extract. Pol observes that some spirulina products in the market come in tablet form. These are not pure spirulina because a binder is needed to produce the tablets.

Family Business

What is interesting about Aztec Spirulina as a business is that members of the whole family are involved in the production cycle. While Pol remains the overall head, his son Edrian is taking charge of production. His daughter Pat is in charge of marketing. On the other hand, his wife Valerie, who is a nurse, is busy conducting lectures and seminars on the beneficial health effects of spirulina. Another son also helps in the office.

Pol can be reached at 0917.837.7947 for more information.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2018 issue.